Monthly Archives: September 2014

Lessons learned as the wife of an Aspie… (a guest post from Kristen King)

I’ll admit, I’m not very good at this. Carlyle is the one who can write so well, but if we ever decide to write that book together, I should start writing some of this down. Raise your hand if communication between husband and wife is difficult. The whole pink versus blue thing is very real and relationships take work and effort. Now, add in Autism, which can be defined as a communication disorder. This can obviously wreak havoc and be extremely difficult for both parties. Communication is hard enough and you add in difficulty on top of that? Since everything in life requires communication of some kind, I think it’s a pretty raw deal.
Okay, so it’s hard, there are barriers, mine fields, struggles and pain. What can we learn from it? What can we DO about it? Part of the problem in communicating is that many of us, including myself, look at the incidents. X was said or X happened. We apologize, say it will never happen again or accept the apology if it happened to us. For those on the spectrum, including Carlyle, they look at every single detail of the situation. They experience and therefore have to process every minute detail. If they don’t get the time to process it in its entirety, those around them will continue (unknowingly) adding to the pain. This results in something we NT’s may see as “dwelling” on an issue. Since the issue wasn’t processed the Aspie will then return to the beginning and the cycle begins again and possibly again.. You get my point. It will continue to be brought up, until they have been able to discuss it while checking for clarification and then putting it to rest. It’s not a matter of “moving on” it’s all about healing from the scene and resetting. Carlyle can come up with great analogies, I’m going to suggest this is similar to a re-boot of a computer. The computer (brain) has to shut down or calm down and then once coming back up from a reboot, it must check through all the systems as it comes back up.
You know how an Autistic child may rock back and forth or even scream out in pain from something we (NT’s) may not even see or hear? They feel things 100x more than we do because of how their brain is wired. This same scenario is what is playing out when Carlyle is hurt, but hasn’t been able to process his feelings to completion. I have had to learn this. I’m a “fix it” personality. I like to jump in and attempt to fix the problem and move on and I’m going to assume that many NT’s are similar. What I had to learn was that I can’t fix the pain. No matter how hard I tried and we spent many years in this vicious circle. I felt like I was going to pay for something I said for the rest of my life. It seemed like we talked it to death and nothing I said helped. Here is the kicker though, once I stopped taking it personally, stopped being defensive and stopped trying to tell him why he shouldn’t be hurt and then simply listened and let him process in entirety, it was never brought up again.
Something else I’m learning from Carlyle is how to “meet” people. Carlyle has this ability to meet others in their pain. Relate in such a way that they feel heard, accepted and understood. He gets it because of the pain he has suffered, but also because he has searched for such friendship for so long. Although we all wish there wasn’t all the pain and suffering in this world, we know that’s not reality. I bet we would all agree that one of the greatest feelings when we are suffering is when we know for certain someone else gets it and can relate. The feeling that we are not alone in this battle. So, all that to say the biggest lesson I have learned is to slow down, wait, listen to understand, check for understanding and slooooow down some more. Did I mention slow down?

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Concerning the Processing of Emotions…

I haven’t written here in a long time, and it’s because I’ve been buried under a mountain of emotional pain. Recent events have allowed me to recover somewhat, but have also led me to believe that this is an important topic for me to discuss. I don’t really see a way to ease into this, so let’s all jump in the deep end together…

It takes me a long time to process emotions. I think the best description is that it is like handling an unstable explosive, such as pure nitroglycerin. Mishandling such a thing can make a big mess and cause great injury. It also goes more smoothly with help. I’d like to point out here something that needs to be very clear: I did not specify negative emotions. Handling positive emotions can be just as dangerous. That said, from this point forward, let’s assume I’m taking about negative emotions unless I specify positive, since there are some differences.

So how do we handle such a dangerous thing? Very carefully. Nitroglycerin tends to explode if you drop it, shake it, or bump it too hard. This means it needs to be moved around slowly. Cooling it tends to make it more stable, and thus easier to handle. We can apply the same concepts to emotional processing. Cooling improves stability, which can be accomplished by separating me from the emotional situation. I can generally do this myself. I’m a big guy, and few people would attempt to stop me from taking my leave. Kids like me, on the other hand, often don’t get this luxury, so keep this in mind. Also, even though I can do this myself, help is beneficial. Sitting with me quietly is very helpful. The biggest issue I have is that it seems people generally seem to want to move to a resolution quickly, which means I have to move the explosives around quickly and risk detonation in the form of a meltdown, or I have to deal with being left behind without any help. Either way, I end up with a new source of emotional pain to add to the original. The best help you can give me is to slooooooooooooow down and work at my pace, which actually ends up being a lot faster with the right help.

What does the process look like? Well, I need to start by defining the issue. This applies to both positive and negative emotions. I am very detail oriented, so I will want to talk about specific incidents and things related to those incidents. In the case of positive emotions, sharing in my joy and excitement over the situation is generally enough to file it away under “happy things” and move on. Positive experiences go bad when I share them and people respond negatively to my excitement. My dad used to always say he wasn’t interested and didn’t want to hear it. Boom! Happy things become sad things just like that. Telling me that I shouldn’t be so excited is equally damaging. From that point, positives are handled the same as negatives, so I’ll move on with negative emotions. As with positives, I will want to get into the details and define the problem. Acknowledging my frustration as understandable, given my perception, is what I’ll need to move forward. It’s really that easy. If you are just helping me process, that’s pretty much the end of it. We can hug or something after, but there you go.

What next? How do we move from acknowledgement to resolution? Notice I just said that I need acknowledgement that my frustration is understandable with a specific condition, which is that we are assuming my perception is complete. From here, I need one of two things. We need to either develop a solution to the problem that makes sense to me (this is very important) or we need to figure out where my perception was incomplete. An example of this might be something that was said that hurt my feelings. I know what was said, but perhaps not what was meant. If we work together until I understand what was meant, then we will have fixed my incomplete perception.

I think I’m going to stop at this point and see what discussion comes up. I’d like this to be a conversation so that we can achieve true understanding.

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